'The Office': EP Paul Lieberstein on the new bosses, garden parties and Halloween

paul-lieberstein-nbc.jpgThere was a fair amount of debate over the summer about who should get the branch manager's job vacated by Michael Scott ( Steve Carell) on "The Office." Should it be Jim? Dwight? Andy? Someone from the outside?

A similar discussion took place in the show's writers room, but when it came time to make a decision, "there wasn't a lot to think about," executive producer Paul Lieberstein (aka Toby Flenderson) tells Zap2it. Andy Bernard, played by Ed Helms, just seemed like the right fit.

"We seriously considered everyone," Lieberstein says. "You have to seriously consider Craig [Robinson, who plays Darryl] and Rainn [Wilson, who plays Dwight]. But when it comes to the character of Darryl, it was someone who was maybe too smart and rational to run a comedy show, you know?

"And with Rainn, it was not Rainn, it was Dwight we had to rule out because he would not let the office be the office anymore. He has some very radical ideas, and I think he'd destroy the place. ... Andy has -- he's very different from Michael, but he has a couple of traits that are kind of key, which are a kind of neediness and wanting the office to be his family."

We talked a lot more with Lieberstein about Helms' new role, James Spader joining the show as new CEO Robert California and what's to come later this season. Highlights of the conversation follow.

Zap2it: So from Robert's perspective, was Andy just the safest choice?
Paul Lieberstein: Without [Robert] knowing people very well, Andy's a very good choice on paper. He can make a very good first impression, he can interview very well. Those are some of his skills. I can also see Robert not wanting to shake up the sales system, and it really doesn't hurt to pull Andy away from sales.

Aside from maybe Dwight and Gabe, everyone seems to like Andy well enough. Do they respect him?
One of his challenges that we'll see over the season is trying to get both character respect and competency respect.

The first impression I got of Robert is that he doesn't like his time wasted, and he's not especially interested in making friends with everybody.
He gives that off a little bit, but I don't know if that's ultimately where we'll settle. I think he's very interested in people, in interactions. He might say he doesn't want his time wasted when someone is wasting it, but he might also ask for his time to be wasted if someone is being too down to business. I think he likes poking and challenging people.

What have you figured out in terms of James Spader's strengths as a comedic actor?
He's very funny. ... Robert California can kind of live in his own world. I think the thing we're picking up the most is how he's interested in playing and poking at people, yet just commanding the interaction, controlling it. Kathy Bates' character was all about results, and that's not really the case with Robert. He's very much about interaction; it just really needs to be on his terms. That's where a lot of his comedy is coming from.

Will the other characters start to figure him out eventually?
People will start to figure him out slowly, but at the same time we'll learn more about him. He's a very interesting character -- James has created a guy with a lot of depth.

From the outside, it seems like Spader has a very specific acting style, whereas "The Office" has always been a pretty loose show. Have you changed the way you work at all?
Yeah -- he's a very exacting performer who prepares very, very carefully, which kind of challenges me to get it right ... in the script stage, and a little less discovering it on set. It's more about thinking it through and preparing carefully. So there's a little adjustment in the way we work -- however, I'm really enjoying it. It's fun to do. It's a dialogue -- we talk a lot.

Does Angela being pregnant throw a wrench into Oscar's idea that her husband the state senator is gay?
It's definitely a further complication there. We'll get to an episode [around] midseason where we start to dig into what's going on there. We have a couple of fun episodes where we learn more about that situation.

Will Jack Coleman be back as the senator?
I definitely hope so. I know he's a sought-after actor. But I hope he'll be around.

Have you shot the episode with Andy's parents [Stephen Collins and Dee Wallace] yet?
We did. It came out really well. His brother is played by Josh Groban, and the two of them together are really funny. Josh plays this very innocent younger brother -- it's a younger Andy who is just excited and happy and doesn't realize any of the competitiveness that Andy feels. ... And his parents are kind of ball-busters.

Does the family just come for a visit?
There's a garden party that Andy throws to celebrate his new position, up at Schrute Farm. Jim [ John Krasinski] plays a prank on [Dwight] -- he creates this book about how to throw a garden party, and Dwight follows the rules of the book pretty carefully.

Are you doing Halloween and Christmas episodes again this year?
We are. Halloween has a giant ghost story at the end of it that Robert tells. He spends the episode figuring out people's deepest fears, then tells a ghost story exploiting them. And Christmas, Andy is Santa and wants to grant everyone a wish.

And I have to ask about Stanley. I thought the "Shove it up your butt" bit was funny, but there were comments thinking it was out of character for a guy who hasn't really cared about interacting with his co-workers.
I don't think "Shove it up your butt" says he's caring too much. I personally thought it was within his character to do that. It's not something that comes back -- we're not replacing "That's what she said."

"The Office" airs at 9 p.m. ET Thursdays on NBC.
Photo/Video credit: NBC